Microsoft is a name synonymous with high-quality software. Its Windows line of operating systems and Office suite of applications are one of the most widely used software in history. So much that this has made it the highest revenue earning and one of the most valuable companies in the world. It is estimated that the company has produced three billionaires and above 12000 millionaires in its history.
Microsoft started as a humble company by Bill Gates and Paul Allen on April 4, 1975, to develop and sell BASIC interpreters for Altair 8800.
But it rose to prominence when it released the popular MS-DOS, a command line operating system and afterward, with the Windows operating systems with its graphical user interface (GUI).
The reason why Windows rose to prominence and skyrocketed Microsoft’s success was its cheaper price, better availability and wider compatibility with market devices. It’s competitor Apple, although first to come up with a GUI, sold its Mac OS exclusively on its own manufactured PCs which were outrageously expensive.
Fast forward today, Windows accounts for nearly 90% of operating systems installed on computers. Of this, Windows 7 accounts for nearly 50% of market share.
But after Windows 7, Microsoft made a big departure in its way of thinking about how it should make an operating system with good user experience. Windows 7’s successor, Windows 8 was supposed to revolutionize how we interact with PCs. But instead, it de-revolutionized it, making it uncomfortable and unfamiliar to use, which resulted in it being a huge flop.
The biggest reason for this was the mistake of removing the desktop from prominence and putting in its place a dramatically changed start menu. If you could even call it a start menu. It was a tiled based interface taking up the whole screen which Microsoft dubbed as the new ‘Metro Interface’. These tiles would open up half-baked native apps or fully fledged desktop apps. And this was a disaster.
One minute, you open the browser and it went full screen. The next minute if you opened up a media player, it would switch to the traditional desktop based window app. The drastic gap in the UI experience was a low blow for die-hard Windows fans.
Then there was the disaster with Windows Phone. Microsoft made many efforts to popularize its mobile OS and cement itself in the ever expanding mobile market. In response, Microsoft bought Nokia’s mobile division for a 7.6 billion dollars to further control the Windows Phone OS.
But it just didn’t work. Nobody wanted to buy Windows Phone devices. The reason was there were a lot of low-quality apps, if they even existed. For example, Facebook and Twitter would take ages to update their apps and Google straight out refused to spend resources to build apps for it. It was a vicious cycle. People wouldn’t buy the phones because of lack of apps and app developers wouldn’t make apps because of lack of users.
But Microsoft, it seems, has finally learned from its mistakes. It has embraced the fact that its greatest strength lies in making great software the people want. It is starting to finally value people’s opinion and stopped shoving ridiculous tiled interfaces on user’s devices.
“First off, if somebody is using a Windows PC, I’m super happy. I think that’s a great thing. They’re using it for a reason, and there’s a great experience that comes with it, and I think that’s important. – Panos Panay, Microsoft Devices Chief”
Let’s explore this by looking at Windows 10, a result of Microsoft’s renowned efforts to create once again a top class desktop OS. Windows 10 is essentially a combination of Windows 7 with the strengths of Windows 8, which were rare.
And to avoid another disaster like Windows 8, Microsoft disclosed from a very early period how it would be building Windows 10. And furthermore, they asked people to sign up and contribute how they would like to build Windows 10 and what features they, the users would put. The result was a massive success, with one million people signing up to be ‘Windows Insiders’. They gave feedback on the design and functionality of the OS which Microsoft listened with great importance.
But Microsoft took it further by making Windows 10 cheap. How cheap? They made Windows 10 free for the first year come July 2016. And in addition, Microsoft promised users that its updates would also be free as of now. And it would be the last ‘version’ of Windows with faster updates so that in the future, everyone would have the same, unified experience with the latest, secure version.
Windows 10, as of January 2016, is installed on 200 million devices, the fastest adoption rate in Windows history.
And while Microsoft is making great efforts to get its software on more and more PCs, they’re also simultaneously focusing on capturing the mobile market. How? By putting their most acclaimed software and applications on every major mobile platform available, namely iOS and Android.
“Our job is to ensure Microsoft will thrive in a mobile and cloud-first world. -Satya Nadella, CEO Microsoft”
This strategy came first into focus when Microsoft released their top-tier Office products: Word, PowerPoint and Excel on iOS and Android for free. As soon as they released it, there was lots of praise from critics. Apple and Google featured these apps prominently in their app stores and millions of users downloaded them.
So, continuing their quest for mobile domination, Microsoft has bought a large number of well-known app companies and startups and integrated their features on their own similar apps, some which are:
And just this week (as the time of writing), Microsoft has acquired the acclaimed business-oriented social network, LinkedIn, for an astounding 26.2 billion dollars.
What this shows is Microsoft is shifting its approach upside down. Instead of forcing users to come to them, Microsoft is going to users. This is in a similar fashion to Google, who unlike Apple, has all its major services available on all major platforms. And even Apple is starting to embrace this way as proved by their 2016 WWDC keynote, which was all about them opening up to developers and users.
But Microsoft has the great advantage of being the one of best software maker in the world with fingers in different areas. Their Windows OS being dominant as a PC OS, their Office Suite being the ultimate productivity app and the Xbox, the second most popular gaming console, have them firmly planted in areas such as consumer electronics, business, entertainment and enterprise.
So it doesn’t matter if they have lost the mobile area. Because judging by their friendlier way of communication with users and aggressive way of business with competitors, instead of winning one battle, they might just win the whole war.
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